Now here’s a fashion fad we can get behind: a growing number of states on the Eastern Seaboard are enacting ivory bans, or at least trying to. New York and New Jersey are both in the news this month thanks to celebrity activism and legislative activities that could lead to bans on the sale of ivory products. This would be a huge step for elephants and rhinos, both of whom are poached for their beautiful horns, which we think look the most gorgeous on the body of a living animal, not on the hilt of a knife, in jewelry, or on other manmade objects.
In New Jersey, the House and Senate have passed a bill that moved swiftly through committee and floor debate to the desk of Governor Chris Christie. The bill would ban the trade or sale of ivory throughout the state, protecting the dwindling numbers of elephants and rhinos in the wild. Walruses, whales and other animals hunted for their ivory are also protected under this legislation, which would provide exceptions for special situations like educational purposes and law enforcement activities. As if poaching on its own weren’t bad enough, funds from poaching fuel terrorist activities in the Middle East, with groups like Al Qaeda using poaching profits to buy guns and other equipment — this isn’t just an animal welfare issue, but also a national security one.
Actress Meryl Streep has issued a statement in support of the bill, urging the governor to vote yes and strike an important symbolic blow against the ivory trade in addition to cracking down on the state’s role in the ivory trade. While Christie vetoed a bill earlier this year to ban gestation crates for sows, supporters of this bill are hopeful that he can see the practical necessity as well as the compassionate one in this case.
Meanwhile, in New York, another celebrity is riding to the rescue for animals. Peter Dinklage issued an impassioned call to New York’s legislature, asking them to pass a bill that would enact a similar ivory ban. The ban is supported by the Humane Society of the United States as well as the New York City Bar. Like New Jersey’s, it would be a revolutionary piece of legislation that could become a model for other states to use, creating a groundswell of support for anti-ivory legislation across the United States.
Critics of the legislation argue that it will harm people with musical instruments, antiques, knives, and other items containing vintage and historic ivory. The very limited framing and interpretation of the bill, they suggest, will lead to arrests and confiscations of ivory that isn’t contributing to the current poaching trade.
Their concerns surround family heirlooms, antique instruments, and other items that aren’t a part of the current global black market in ivory — though these items, of course, do feed demand for ivory in the big picture. Already, confusion about endangered woods, ivory, and other restricted components can be an issue when transporting or traveling with antiques, especially instruments, and they’re concerned that this could compound the problem.
Photo credit: Christian Haugen.